School officials are moving forward with plans to consolidate two elementary schools in Nikiski starting this summer.
Nikiski and North Star elementary schools will become one after this school year, due to a June decision by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.
The two schools, located only a few miles apart, are each about half full, and enrollment is rapidly declining. In fact, according to the district's Oct. 1 count, the combined enrollment at Nikiski and North Star was 403 students. Each building has a capacity of 500 students.
The consolidation, which will result in the closure of Nikiski Elementary (the older of the two buildings) and the transfer of students and staff to North Star Elementary, is expected to save the district about $250,000 in operation costs.
The Nikiski Elementary facility will be surplused back to the borough, which owns all district schools, and the district will retain the right to reoccupy the building if the need arises in the coming two years.
But just because one building is closing and one is staying empty, school officials say Nikiski Elementary won't simply be absorbed into North Star.
Lori Manion, principal at North Star, said every effort is being made to make sure the transition is a true consolidation a blending of the two school communities.
"It will be a new site," she said.
At present, a primary part of that blending process is coming up with a new name, mascot and school colors for the school.
The consolidation effort is being headed up by a task force, with several subcommittees working on various aspects of the transition. The school identity committee began work in October to develop a new identity for the consolidated school.
The committee accepted nominations for a name, mascot and colors for the new school, receiving more than 100 suggestions. Those suggestions were narrowed to the four ballot choices.
The choices for school name, mascot and colors are:
Nikiski United Elementary School; eagles; red, white and blue;
Nikiski-North Star Elemen-tary School; shooting stars; blue and gold;
Captain Cook Elementary School; explorers; blue and green; and
Salamatof Elementary School; bears; black and blue.
"It's a little bit of everything," Manion said, explaining that most of the color choices are mixes of Nikiski and North Star school colors and that the names reflect both the blending of schools and the cultural heritage of the area.
Students and community members will be invited to vote on their choices Jan. 6 to 17. Community members also will have a chance to vote from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 17 at Nikiski Fire Station 1.
Voters will have to show picture identification and sign their name to make sure no one has more than one vote, but community members from the entire central peninsula, not just the Nikiski area, are invited to cast ballots.
Votes will be counted the third week of January then go before the consolidation task force. The school identity then will be presented to the school board in February and go to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development for approval.
Manion said though community members likely will know the results by February, the decision won't be official until about April.
Other aspects of the consolidation process also are under way.
A facilities committee recently ordered new, large playground equipment for the school; an instruction facility is reviewing possibilities for various programs and intervention curriculum to be used at the school; and the joint school activities committee is working with teachers at both sites to set up cooperative activities to help students get to know each other.
Also in the works is a closing ceremony for Nikiski Elementary School. The ceremony, scheduled for May, will help provide some closure for teachers, students and the community saying goodbye to the school.
Mark Norgren, Nikiski Elemen-tary principal, and Annie Kendall, a sixth-grade teacher at Nikiski Elementary, are seeking community members, including staff, students, parents or volunteers, who have had ties with the school to help plan the ceremony. Interested individuals can contact Norgren by phone at 776-8553 or e-mail Kendall at email@example.com.
Though the initial conversation about consolidation of the schools caused quite a bit of controversy in Nikiski, Manion said community members seem to be on board with the plans.
"It took us a while, but I think we're there. We've bridged that gap," she said. "I think most see it as a necessity. Our numbers are dropping, even below what was projected. The writing is on the wall.
"People are seeing the benefits in putting more staff together. There will be more choices, more opportunities. That's what's exciting."
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